By Richard Koubek
The year 2007 was a watershed year for the engineering and computer science academic community – marking the end of a long decline in computer science enrollments that had plagued the industry since 1999. While the United States and many industries slipped into a major recession, it was as if American students finally opened their eyes to see that engineering and computer science disciplines held the keys to building stable, sustainable and successful careers.
As unemployment rates climbed, state budgets faltered, public funding for higher education declined and college tuition rose, engineering and computer science college enrollments skyrocketed.
While it’s true that a student’s pragmatic side may direct his or her attention to explore engineering and computer science, starting salaries alone usually do not “close the deal.” Students must envision a rewarding and challenging career ahead. In the past students were inspired by – and wanted to be part of – grand challenges such as the Apollo program to land a person on the moon.
While we don’t have an Apollo mission to serve as an inspiration today, industry is traversing a variety of new frontiers and offering challenges to the brightest minds. Using “Big Data” and analytics to find cures for infectious diseases, develop innovative solutions to traffic congestion, and uncover hidden patterns to improve public safety is today’s “moon shot.” As in the past, academia, government and industry must work together to tackle these grand challenges.
The good news is that the most recent CRA Taulbee report shows computer science enrollments increasing again this year. At my university, LSU, we have experienced a 41 percent enrollment increase over the past four years, with repeated years of record-setting freshman classes. Looking at the projections for Fall 2013, we anticipate another 10 percent enrollment increase in our freshman class.
As we look further ahead, we see that the university’s long-term viability is dependent on the quality of partnerships it can forge with industry and the community. These public-private partnerships will be dependent on attracting top talent to computer science and engineering careers, and the strength of these partnerships will be predictors of our long-term success. In Louisiana, a new benchmark has been set with a unique alliance between Louisiana Economic Development, IBM and LSU to attract and educate the next generation of computer scientists in our State. This partnership is fueling our revival in engineering higher education.
To appeal to the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s top students, the academic community must partner with industry to deliver innovative curricula and provide enriching real-world experiences to apply the lessons learned in the classroom. I am proud to say that LSU is collaborating with IBM to do just this, while building a steady pipeline of talent for the technology jobs of the future.